AG REPORT 2000: Partners for the future

Orval and Dean Suderman?s father-and-son operation three-and-a-half miles south of Hillsboro is both common and rare.

For Dean, who just turned 29, starting out with a father is about the only way a young man can get into farming these days.

For Orval, 74, it?s becoming increasing rare that a veteran farmer can pass on his farm to a child as more and more sons and daughters pursue what they see as more inviting professions in the city.

Both men appreciate their situation. Orval himself took over the farm in 1947 from his father, who acquired the farmstead in 1918.

?I think it?s a great privilege to do it that way,? Orval says. ?You see so many farmers around here that don?t have the opportunity to pass it on within the family. They have to either sell it or bring someone in from the outside. That makes it a little bit more difficult.?

Adds Dean: ?I?m sure our situation is somewhat unique because he?s going out and I?m coming in at approximately the same time. A lot of times that doesn?t work.?

Dean became formally involved in the operation while in high school. As part of his FFA portfolio, he established 5 percent of their cow herd. After high school, Dean went on to earn an associate degree in agriculture from Butler County Community College.

Today, most of their operation is run on a 50-50 basis. The Sudermans farm about 1,200 acres?some rented, some owned?and background and graze about 400 steers. Their crops include wheat, corn, milo and soybeans.

Even during Dean?s time on the farm, and certainly during Orval?s 53 years, farming has changed. They see change as the one constant as they look to the future.

?Change is something that keeps it interesting,? Dean says. ?I?m always looking for ways to change things and not always do things the way we always had.?

One of the biggest changes they?ve made in recent years is moving to a no-till strategy for row crops.

?If you?ve been farming in a certain way for probably 50 years, to make that switch is quite a change,? Orval says.

The Sudermans began experimenting with no-till four or five years ago. Today, 100 percent of their row crop is raised that way.

That change, in turn, led others.

?What ties into no-till is that you?ve got to rotate crops every year,? Dean says. ?That?s why we started growing soybeans. In past years, we never grew soybeans, but it fits so well into the rotation. You can?t control weeds and shatter cane, otherwise.?

Another fiscal strategy the Sudermans are pursuing is better record-keeping.

?That?s my weak point?I inherited his record-keeping abilities and desires,? Dean jokes about his father. ?But that?s what they stress. You?ve got to know the cost of production so that when it comes to marketing decisions, you know what you?ve got in it and you know when to sell.?

Dean is in his second year as a member of the risk-management program offered through the Kansas State extension office in Marion. In addition, Orval has been involved in the Farm Management Association for some 15 years and Dean joined about five years ago.

Both organizations stress keeping accurate records.

?At the end of the year, I used to get some figures out of the drill box and off the tractor fender,? Orval says with a smile. ?You?ve got to have better records than that.?

Fortunately for both of them, they say, Orval?s wife, Rosella, enjoys keeping their books.

The need for current information is prompting the Sudermans to consider buying their first computer.

?That?s something I?m really looking into,? Dean says. ?A few years ago, I really didn?t see the need that you had to get one. It kind of interests me, so we?ll get into it, I guess.?

The Sudermans see technological advances as continuing to change their operation. They don?t think the newest trend?global positioning satellites?which helps farmers adjust fertilizer levels within a particular field?is economically feasible for operations like theirs. But it likely will be some day.

But the Sudermans do use local fertilizer companies to test their soil and make recommendations for the most helpful application of chemicals.

?We depend on their knowledge for that,? Dean says.

A more significant development is bio-tech seeds, or GMO?genetically modified organisms. It has already drastically affected their soybean crops. Before, herbicides couldn?t be applied to soybeans. Now, thanks to genetically altered seeds, herbicides are a key part of their weed-control strategy.

?It?s amazing,? Orval says. ?We sprayed everything last year with Round Up. It will zap everything but the beans.?

On the livestock side, the Sudermans have been backgrounding cattle during the winter for several years. In the spring they ship the herd to pastures in the Flint Hills, and then on to feedlots.

Even though some operators are getting out of livestock, it still pays off for the Sudermans.

?Sometimes I look at it as a winter job,? Dean says. ?Some people get a job during the winter, at least part time.?

Besides that, having cattle makes practical sense fo?r the Sudermans, who have hay fields and waterways that generate feed anyway.

?That way we can walk off some of the products instead of hauling it off,? Orval says. ?Right now we?ve got lots of hay that?s maybe of poorer quality that would be hard to sell, given the market. So we feed a lot of that.?

The Sudermans like the independence they have as farmers and they enjoy the lifestyle that goes with it. They?re hopeful about the future.

?If you weren?t optimistic, it?d be tough going,? Orval says.

Dean says survival requires more than optimism. ?It?s important to separate the financial business from the lifestyle,? he says. ?You can?t keep doing something the same way just because it?s the way you?ve always done it. Finally, you?ve got to meet the bottom line.?

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